Judge rules Colorado education funding system is unconstitutional

6:50 PM, Dec 10, 2011   |    comments
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The trial of Lobato vs. the State of Colorado lasted about a month. It started when Anthony Lobato felt the education available to his daughters in Center, Colo. was not equal to other districts.

"I know we were real optimistic and I was optimistic," Lobato, the plaintiff, said. "But until the ruling actually came down, I had no idea."

State officials warned that losing the lawsuit could have disastrous effects on Colorado's finances because the State Legislature could be forced to allocate the majority of the budget to education to meet the plaintiffs' demands. But Friday's ruling is likely not the end of the 2005 lawsuit. Both sides have said they expect it to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs argued that the state's method of funding education is random and leaves poor students at a disadvantage.

In her ruling, Judge Sheila Rappaport said, "The public school finance system is irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded."

Mike Saccone, spokesperson for the Colorado Attorney General's office, says Attorney General John Suthers was not surprised by the ruling and that an appeal will be filed.

Saccone says the ruling itself invites an appeal.

The governor and the attorney general will meet soon to discuss what the next step will be.
"We will carefully review the ruling and consult with the Attorney General's office in the coming days. The state will almost certainly appeal this decision," Mike Brown, spokesperson for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the plaintiffs, the Lobato family, says this is a huge victory for all children in Colorado, maybe the biggest in the state's history.

Lobato says he was hopeful for this decision, but he still can't believe it.

"I don't know what to say. I almost feel numb. It's beyond emotion right now. I think when it starts to sink in it's just going to be fantastic," he said.

He says if this decision is eventually upheld, it will prompt an important change for rural school districts, especially.

"I've always said this is just an opportunity for the legislature to reform education in Colorado for the better," Lobato said. "I hope [legislators] step up to the ball now and look at this as an opportunity, not something they need to fight."

Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver) is on the education committee and a former teacher and principal.

"Our current funding levels for K-12 are essentially making us violate article 9 section 15 of the state constitution, which says we must have a thorough and uniform education system and we just don't we have such disparities in the amount of funding that we see from district to district," Johnston explained. "While she's [the judge] enjoined the legislature to take action to create a system that's constitutional, ultimately changes to that system will rest with the voters."

A key part of the judge's ruling is that lawmakers will have a little time to figure this out.

"She's saying to the legislature you have until this session to show me you can come up with a solution that's constitutional," Johnston said.

If this does go down to a vote, it may be tough to persuade Coloradans to fork over more in taxes. In November, Colorado voters shot down a $3 billion tax increase proposal for schools by a 2-to-1 margin.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)

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